The University of Oklahomas University Theatre opens its season with Dracula, a visually stunning and well-acted production of Bram Stokers classic novel. The one thing holding the production back is William McNultys adaptation, designed to bring a more contemporary horror film sensibility to bare.
In this telling, the play opens with the arrival of Dr. Van Helsing at the estate of his friend, Dr. Seward, whos beloved Mina has recently died of an unknown illness. McNulty has swapped the character names of Mina and Lucy from the novel, so here, its Mina who dies first and Lucy who grows ill and becomes the target of seductive intrusions by the mysterious Count Dracula, who has conveniently set up shop in nearby Carfax Abbey.
Lucys fiancé, Jonathan Harker, turns up after having been missing for some time. Together with Van Helsing and Seward, Harker endeavors to uncover the root of Lucys illness and how the count might be involved.
As one of the most recognized characters in film and literature, playing the role of Dracula comes with a lot of pre-conceived notions an actor has to embrace and overcome to deliver a unique performance. And thats just what Brad Brockman does. Sporting just enough of Dracs Slavic accent, he is imposing, confident, powerful and brimming with sensuality and menace.
They succeed at re-creating a sexy horror film as live theater.
The always-excellent Madison Niederhauser does strong work in a more understated performance as Van Helsing, convincingly inhabiting the physicality of a man decades older. Niederhauser is particularly great when going up against Dracula in Act 2, armed only with Scripture and a cross.
Like most of the women in the cast, Stella Highfill gets to shine as Lucy when under Draculas influence. Never is this more true than when he convinces her to drink his blood. In another memorable scene, Highfill channels a bit of Ghostbusters Zuul as the possessed Lucy attempts to seduce Harker, played with earnest bewilderment by Tyler Brodess.
Kevin Percivals performance as Draculas tormented servant Renfield is the standout. As mesmerizing as a vampire, he holds your attention with a virtuoso display, striking a perfect tragicomic tone that can have you laughing at him one moment, fearing him the next, and even feeling pity for him in another. Bursting at the seams with energy, his vocal delivery and physical embodiment of the character are borne of total commitment.
Despite some of McNultys uneven storytelling, director Tom Huston Orr succeeds at re-creating a sexy horror film as live theater with the help of fun performances, an amazing set designed by Hana Goff, beautiful costumes courtesy of Kasey Allee-Foreman, and great effects that draw more than a little inspiration from Francis Ford Coppolas similarly flawed but brilliant 1992 film.
Photo by Wendy Mutz